Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chronic Tribute: Steve Gerber! (9/20/47 - 2/10/08)

Steve Gerber was a unique creative force.  He was imagination with impeccable steering and really bad brakes.  His stuff was weird, and not for everybody.  Steve Gerber was not for squares, back when there were such things as squares.

I think the real genius of Gerber's writing was that it was pure.  He didn't turn the Defenders into a wonderfully dysfunctional non-team to wow you with eccentricity.  He didn't pair Daredevil up with Moondragon and send the guy into space so he could buck trends or generate buzz.  He didn't create a national sensation in the form of an extra-dimensional duck with aspirations for the oval office to reinvent the genre.

Steve Gerber did not melt your mind as an attack.   It was simply the natural byproduct of his mental mutancy - he was a fully functioning, rational adult who never developed an anti-fun filter.  Children don't filter anything, their imaginations run free and unchecked.  We beat it out of them fairly quickly with fascist group thinking and a focus purely on "results".  The idea is never the thing as we pass from childhood to adolescence to bitterness.  What can you do with it?

I think Steve Gerber was a one-in-a-million treasure who never let that damned filter kill his flow.  (We got our lottery winner in this generation in the form of Grant Morrison)  He let the ideas flow and then asked a better question than everybody around him:

Why not?

He'll probably be best remembered for Howard The Duck, followed by Man-Thing and The Defenders.  Those are all fine things to remember Steve Gerber by.  The thing that sticks with me more than anything, the thing that defines Gerber's contribution to the comics medium is that throw-away series form Malibu's Ultraverse called The Exiles.

Tom Mason and co. handed Gerber a team full of cliches, and he created one of the great button-hooks in the history of comics.  It was going to be the usual comics fare - a super scientist discovers a fatal "Theta Virus" that also generates super powers, and Dr. Deming forms a team of jag-offs and miscreants to serve the greater good.

In comics, hell, in storytelling, the rule is you slap these ill-fitting pieces together, and it isn't always pretty, but by gum that team is going to learn from their mistakes and each other and prevail in the end.

Not in Gerbertown, baby.  Sometimes when you chuck a bunch of ill-fitting pieces together the machine falls apart.  And that's exactly what The Exiles did - they failed spectacularly.  Nobody knew what the fuck they were doing, catastrophic mistakes were made, Amber Hunt literally blew up and took most of her teammates with her.

In life outside of stories, things fall apart.  The center cannot hold.  This is NOT the way you write comic books.  The idea of an ongoing series is to keep going on.  Gerber flushed the whole works in four issues, and the payoff was extraordinary.

There were some ruffled feathers over the fact that Malibu solicited an issue # 5 that it knew would never be published. (retailers were reimbursed, of course, but it felt like dirty pool) The only way the story works, of course, is if you hold the stodgy old pattern in your head (it's an ongoing series, nothing really bad can happen) only to have your mind blown when the entire team is laying in pieces due to gross incompetence.

Why not?

We miss you, Steve Gerber!
- Ryan

1 comment:

Stephen said...


Not to take a thing away from Mr. Gerber who was a very creative and outside the box writer, but from what I recall, the whole thing with the Exiles book was pretty much planned out by the head honchos at Malibu - true they may have not been considering sacrificing the book at the start until a few issues in they saw no signs of impressive sales (just my speculation on it here since I recall it being a comparatively lower ordered ultraverse title at the time), however the destruction of the team and the culling of the majority of the book's cast was used as the catalyst for the company wide cross-over event, Breakthrough (a book which had Perez art, if I recall).

Don't mean to lessen the contribution of Gerber, just suggesting he might have not been laying out that particular storyline all on his lonesome that time.